Hero’s Quest

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

This week I’m  looking at the Sierra On-Line classic, Hero Quest, first released in 1989.  This game was a completely different gaming experience back in the day.  Most gamers were used to adventure games, like King’s Quest or Space Quest, or role-playing games, like Might & Magic.  But an amalgamation of role-playing and adventure games was unheard of! Lori Cole’s game design was unique and the game was a best-seller for Sierra, spawning several sequels over the years.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

You could play Hero Quest either as a Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief.  The game’s puzzles were designed so that they could be solved in different ways by the different character classes, and you could improve your character’s skills and inventory as you played the game.   It played as an adventure game, where your character completed quests and solved puzzles, moving the storyline to its epic finish.  By today’s PC game standards, the graphics and sound are rudimentary at best, with your hero looking a bit like a stick figure jerkily moving about the screen.  But a good retro gamer never judges an old game by today’s standards!  The storyline is strong, and can still be fun to play today.

Heros Quest - PC - Sierra - Gameplay Screenshot

An interesting side note about Hero Quest is that the game’s name had to be changed almost immediately after it was distributed.  Milton Bradley had trademarked the Hero Quest name for their 3D board game, which apparently no one in the Sierra On-Line team knew – until they were told to remove it or else.  The solution was to simply change the title of Hero Questto Hero Quest: So You Want To Be A Hero.  Of course, this has led to these two games forever jumbled together in google searches as retro gamers look to find them to add to their collections!

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1rJXX5yBcs&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

A Guide to the world of the Indie Adventure Game

Indy Adventure Game
It must have been back in the day when Terry Pratchett’s Discworld II was released that I first noticed PC Zone proclaiming the adventure gaming genre dead and most probably buried too, even though quite a few classics like Gabriel Knight III or Sanitarium would still follow. Yet, it was indeed more than obvious that the glory days of Monkey Island, Space Quest and Day of the Tentaclewere definitely coming to their end. Games went mainstream, quality dropped, the thinking gamer became a ridiculously small minority, good taste went tits up and magazines kept telling everyone just how very dead adventures were.

Heck, even now, after the obviously lucrative niche market The Adventure Company has carved itself, a variety of quirky Nintendo DS adventures and the amazing success of Sam and Max Series 1, nobody is convinced that adventures are truly back and people are still talking about redefining the genre, dropping costs, appealing to the mainstream, going 3D, whatever. What they are very obviously forgetting is that game crafting isn’t a power bestowed solely to big studios by the gods of gaming. It’s an art and craft everyone can have a try at, by either producing a freeware game or going for the more life-sustaining indy commercial development model. This exactly is the case with independent and/or freeware adventure games, a creative scene that’s been thriving for over a decade and going from strength to strength.

An Independent Adventure Game, you see, is a game created outside the stuffy world of uneducated managers who think they actually know what people like and believe there’s no value besides the exchange one. Indy Adventure Games, just like any medieval artisan’s product, only have to be true to the creator’s vision. They can be wildly innovative, copyright infringing, in full pixelated 2D, remakes of classic games, political, silly, absolutely shite, pop, over 500MB, excellent, boring, free or very cheap; anything at all. And, unlike commercial games, especially the ridiculously expensive ones which we’ve been living with for quite some time, they just can’t be proclaimed dead. As long as people -ordinary people- care for them, they’ll be around.

To play an Independent Adventure Game…

For the time being though, the indy adventure game is far from a dying species. One could even speak of an apex, if it weren’t for the ever increasing volume, variety and quality of productions. There are happily dozens of extremely talented developers and groups that keep churning out game after lovely game. To find out about -and of course play- said games, well, you’re spoiled for choice. For starters, this very blog will keep on covering those that catch my eye, Tim’s brilliant Independent Gaming will let you know about 99% of the newest releases, the Adventure Gamers Underground section, the AGS games pages, Adventure Developers, Erin’s blog and the the Adventuress will go on discovering and reviewing them, and then there are the developers’ websites like those of xii games, Herculean Effort, Wadjet Eye and Radical Poesis to search and savor.

<Intermission: In the unlikely case you’ve never played an adventure game and are thinking of having a try now that you ‘ve just discovered the world of freeware, please, do not expect frantic action. Expect interesting stories, mainly 2D graphics, lots of puzzles, inventory manipulation and lots and lots of pointing and clicking at things. The mouse and a capacity for lateral thinking are your friends./>

Now, to get you started and playing the latest and probably the best, I can’t help but suggest having a look at the linking epic that is my AGS Awards Winners 2006 post and the TOP 20 indy Adventures of 2006 as selected by Independent Gaming. Then, there’s this short ‘n’ random selection of games, merely for illustration purposes:

What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed

LB

Could you ever imagine EA coming up with a title like that? Or with a game simultaneously featuring two distinct stories? How about a hard brain twister? The most innovative adventure game of the past decade then? Of course not, and that’s the beauty of it. Download Linus here.

Space Quest 0: Replicated

Space Quest 0 - Replicated

Not a huge admirer of fan creations based on existing games, but this one is a glowing exception. SQ 0 is an excellent, original and funny little game, complete with 16-colour EGA graphics and old-fashioned parser interface, in which -you know- you type stuff. Could have easily been a proper part of the SQ saga methinks. Download it here.

Missing

missing

Now, for some adult-oriented entertainment. Missing is a gritty and beautifully illustrated adventure utilizing a simple ICOM-like point-and-click interface, that puts the players in the (probably) authoritarian shoes of a cop searching for his vanished wife and kid. Download it here.

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

Quasi-political satire with photorealistic graphics and absurdist humor, this one features a socialist cop in an almost socialist fictional state surrounded by Fortress Europe. Also looks quite a bit like Gabriel Knight II. Download it here.

Nearly Departed

Nearly Departed

A game by John Green, a Disney illustrator, no less. Fantastic graphics, impressive cartoon quality animation, simple interface and a still unfinished but very playable and highly enjoyable adventure. Besides, it’s the story of a reluctant zombie. Download it here.

Crafting, it’s so easy.

Well, provided you can come up with some decent graphics, game design, animation and music, it is. Programming could come in handy too, but as creating your very own engine can be both difficult and time consuming, there are many -mostly freeware- tools/engines that only require a minimum of effort and programming skill. The list that follows will hopefully help you. As for Interactive Fiction (text-adventures) it will be covered some other time. For now have a look at this interesting i-f writing bit.

AGS, the hallowed Adventure Games Studio, is by far the most popular scripting and adventure game creation environment to date. Pretty easy to use, freeware, geared towards classic 2D point-and-click retro adventures and backed up by a huge vibrant community, it’s probably where you should begin. Have a look.

LASSIE Adventure Studio, another free game creator, provides with the tools to create adventures in the classic Lucasarts style in Macromedia, Flash and Shockwave. Why not visit the LASSIE official site then?

The Wintermute Engine is slightly less easy to use a development environment, but with obvious 3D capabilities, impressive built-in graphical effects and high-tech tendencies. Quite the beast, really. Download it here.

Finally, and in a very blog-post ending way, you can also give the pretty excellent SLUDGE and Adventure Maker (also does PSP software, mind you!) tools a go. They are definitely worth your time. And mine.


The Space Quest Retrospective: A janitor’s epic tale

Meet Roger Wilco, janitor extraordinaire and star of the (mostly) hilarious Space Quest series by Sierra, back from the era when adventure games were actually considered killer-apps and went on to spawn sequel after sequel. Say hi, through almost seven Space Quest games (well, six actually), out of which only five (almost six) used roman numerals in their titles. Meet him here and have a drink in adventure-o-vision, while reading through this particularly short retrospective.Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter

Space Quest 1

The first game by designers Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, a.k.a. The Two Guys from Andromeda, Space Quest I was released back in 1986 at the beginning of the adventure gaming mainstream era. The game used the early Sierra AGI engine, complete with 16 glorious EGA colours and beautifully stylized graphics, a nice soundtrack and a pretty impressive -definitely hilarious too- parser interface. The plot introduced series star Roger Wilco, a janitor, who started off his heroics by napping in a broom closet while aliens hijacked the spaceship he was supposed to be cleaning and grabbed the devastatingly deadly Star Generator, only to finally wake up and save the universe. The game introduced the series’ trademark humor, frequent -impressively varied too- deaths, difficult puzzles, arcade-y sequences and bad-guy Vohaul. Oh, and save often.

Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge

Space Quest 2

The first sequel in the series is another text-driven graphics adventure that apparently took less than a year to develop, and, well, quite frankly it shows. Arch-villain Sludge Vohaul returns to hunt a now-famous Roger Wilco in a frustrating game with below average puzzles and mostly flat jokes. Not really worth your time without a walkthrough…

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

Space Quest 3

Space Quest 3 was simply stunning and one of the better looking games of 1989, especially when seen on the Amiga. It also sported a truly post-modern and particularly funny plot involving the Space Pirates, a shovelware/software pirating group, who had kidnapped the Two Guys, thus endangering the future of the whole Space Quest franchise. Unless, that is, Roger stopped them, which apparently he did. The game, besides being excellent and taxing as ever, also featured tactical space combat and a playable arcade game.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

Space Quest 4

The first 256-colour VGA Space Quest with full SoundBlaster support and the first point-and-click game in the series too, Space Quest IV comfortably remains among my top 10 adventures even to this day. It’s got everything you could ask for really: time traveling to previous and future SQ games complete with appropriate graphic changes, Roger’s son, a fantastic goodies-filled box, some of the toughest (but quite fair too) puzzles in the series, Lucasarts game parodies, a burger making mini-game, Ms. Astro Chicken, droids, quality voice acting, latex babes, elaborate easter eggs, a smell icon, a Gnome’s Lair review (also a walkthrough) and the aptly named Monochrome Boys. An absolute masterpiece.

Space Quest V: Roger Wilco – The Next Mutation

Space Quest 1

This one I haven’t played, mostly because it was the first Space Quest game that wasn’t designed by both the Guys from Andromeda, though most adventurers seem to agree it’s a mighty fine game. Reviewers liked it quite a bit too. Released back in 1993, Space Quest V had Roger apparently take on the Star Trek universe by graduating from the illustrious StarCon Academy, piloting his very own garbage-collecting spaceship and boldly going where no man had gone before, or so they say.

Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier

Space Quest 6

The final installment in the series and the only one to do away with the silly places in outer space in order to focus on the silly ones inside the human body, as experienced by a highly miniaturized Roger of course. Actually, scrap that, as it’s just what the title implies. The game -an SVGA CD exclusive released in 1995- has Mr. Wilco exploring the vaguely nasty planet of Polysorbate LX while running into an incredible number of farcical video game, computer, pop-culture and movie references. Oh, and you’ll definitely love the cartoon-quality graphics and vastly updated point-and-click interface.

Now, as Space Quest 7 -or would it be VII?- never managed to survive the demise of Sierra and no more Space Quest games are to be released in the foreseeable future, seasoned veterans could go around and google for some mostly brilliant fanmade sequels and remakes. Alternatively, both them and gamers looking to dive into the taxing and surreal universe of Space Quest can go for Vivendi’s Space Quest Collection. It might not be the best collection possible (lacking a few game versions and coming with PDF manuals only), but it’s got the basics covered, runs brilliantly on the latest PCs and is rather cheap.

 

Classic Sierra PC Game site will return

Police Quest 1 screenshot
Police Quest 1 screenshot

Since 2009 the folks over at Sarien.net have been hosting classic Sierra PC games such as Space Quest, Police Quest and Kings Quest where fans of the classic series could log in a play without fee or ads. However, when the owners decided to optimize their site for use on the iPad it caught the online presses attention and attracted Activision.

With Activision owning the rights to the Sierra, titles and their wanting the option to see App store versions of the popular games in the future, Sarien.net received a cease-and-desist letter from Activision’s lawyers.

The site was shut down and when replying to the lawyers to let them know they complied the owners asked if there was anyway the site could continue.

“The next day I received a kind reply from Activision’s law firm, and I actually do mean ‘kind,'” Kool writes. “This new letter I received contained a proposal.”

The proposal was to allow Sarien.net to reopen and publish the first game from any of the series he had before in the multiplayer mode they had built for the website, except for Leisure Suit Larry, which is a Codemasters license. In addition, they are to provide links to the digital versions of the game where fans of the series could buy the original if they like.

Score one for classic gaming sites and fans who love them and score one for Activision who will get some good press from this and may add interest to launching app versions of classic Sierra games.